Department of Anthropology

The Cosmopolitics of Forensic Science: Seeing and Being at Spanish Mass Grave Exhumations

Jonah S. Rubin Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology Knox College

Fri, April 27, 2018 | SAC 5.118

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

The Cosmopolitics of Forensic Science: Seeing and Being at Spanish Mass Grave Exhumations

Since 2000, Spanish Civil Society organizations have been utilizing forensic techniques to recover the physical remains of the over 130,000 civilians disappeared during the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil and 1939-1978 Franco dictatorship. Although these organizations follow strict international protocols for generating legal evidence from ossified human remains, the data they extract from mass graves are not destined for any truth commission, war crimes tribunal, or historical clarification commission. Departing from some of the more ebullient human rights literature, I show how, especially in the absence of any juridical authority, popular understandings of forensic science as settling historical debates by extracting incontestable facts about past state crimes are unsustainable. Instead, I look at how the exhumation transforms the bodies of both the living and dead persons it comes into contact with. By focusing on the aesthetic and bodily trainings that visitors to mass grave exhumations undergo, I show how the living learn to recognize the dead as persons with whom they inhabit a shared corporal, human, and political universe. In so doing, living and dead persons articulate new capacities for engaging in political action that challenges the foundational settlements of post-Franco Spanish democracy.

Sponsored by: Center for European Studies

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